Channeling his effort
Doug McConnell is set to swim the English Channel for a cause
Within the next month, Barrington resident Doug McConnell will attempt to accomplish something that only 47 people older than 50 have accomplished – swimming the English Channel.
McConnell will swim in memory of his father, who passed away from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. McConnell’s goal is to raise $50,000 for the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory at Northwestern University. Medtronic, his primary sponsor, will match funds up to $50,000.
McConnell’s family came to Woodstock in the 1860s, and McConnell Road is named after his great-grandfather, who owned the original farm on the road. His parents, David and Bonnie, grew up in Woodstock, met in first grade, graduated from Woodstock High School in 1948 and married in 1952. McConnell was born in 1957.
McConnell grew up in Dundee and began competitive swimming at 7 years old in the summer park district program. A few years later he began swimming year round at the YMCA in Elgin. McConnell attended the University of Illinois where he studied finance and accounting. He walked on to the swim team and lettered all four years, specializing in the 200-meter butterfly.
After college, McConnell could not help staying an active swimmer.
“I stayed in it to stay in shape and because so many of my friends were involved in it,” McConnell said. “I’ve always loved it. I was involved in a master’s program for swimmers based on age. There are people in their 90s competing.”
McConnell has participated in the Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic for the last 25 years. He and a group of his friends were part of the original group to take part in the swim, which is held at Navy Pier. The event, started with 12 swimmers, is now one of the most prestigious open water swims in the country, with approximately 800 people participating.
About seven years ago, McConnell began taking open water swimming more seriously.
“Pool swimming is a great way to stay in shape, but there does get to be a certain sameness to it,” McConnell said. “I wanted to make a new challenge. Pool swimming is all about eliminating variables; everyone has the same conditions. Open water reintroduces all variables – wind, waves, cold, can’t see where you’re going, etc. ... .”
McConnell started out with some smaller swims, one to three miles long, in the area. Two years ago, McConnell made the decision to swim the English Channel when he was visiting with a good friend, Don MacDonald. They both decided to take the challenge.
“For two years we have trained together, we’ve used the same coach, we’re going to England the same time, his boat pilot is the son of mine,” McConnell said. “It’s conceivable we will swim the same day.”
In April, McConnell participated in a swim of Tampa Bay, which is 24 miles, to prepare for the channel swim.
“Having grown up around here, my time in saltwater is pretty limited,” McConnell said. “Swimming in salt water is different and takes a while to get used to. Tampa was a challenge – waves, winds, current, and jellyfish. It was a good test.”
McConnell, an investment banker, lives in Barrington with his wife, Susan. They have four children ages 13 to 24. The family has been involved in his training and will be heading to England with him.
“It’s very cool,” Susan said. “We are all working on the project. We are his crew. I’m really proud of him. He’s a great swimmer, and the fact that he’s doing it for a cause is really special, and it takes it to a different level. I think it will help him.”
McConnell’s 19-year-old son built a kayak to use as a guide boat during his training. His family also designed a feeding basket that holds two or three water bottles. This allows them to provide him with sustenance during the channel swim where he is not allowed to touch the boat or anyone on the boat. McConnell requires 1,000 calories per hour during the swim.
The McConnell family will leave for England Friday, Aug. 19. His official window to conduct the swim is Aug. 20 to 27, and that is determined by the tide. He is the fourth swimmer from his boat who will swim, so his realistic window, according to McConnell, is from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1.
The English Channel separates England from France. At its narrowest point, the channel is 21 miles wide, but tides and currents mean the average channel swim likely will be closer to 30 miles. Swimmers are allowed to attempt a crossing from England to France only because of French government restrictions and only in the months of July, August and September because of the cold waters. The average channel swim takes more than 12 hours, and only 50 percent of those who attempt to swim the channel complete the entire journey.
Marcia Cleveland is McConnell’s long distance swim coach and has become a good friend of his during the process. Cleveland believes McConnell is a top-notch student.
“Doug is a gem to work with,” Cleveland said. “He is so conscientious about what he does. He has a very busy life but has found a way to sandwich this in. He understands what he needs to do to be successful in this effort.”
With the event less than a month away, McDonnell is ready.
“When I first started out in this process, swimming the English Channel sounded like flying to the moon, you can’t even imagine it,” McConnell said. “Yet, through training and different events, you learn along the way.
“I really do feel like I am prepared. We’ve been very lucky to work with Marcia, who is one of the top coaches in the world when it comes to training marathon swimmers, particularly the channel. If we end up on a day where the channel will let someone across, I know I can swim that far.”
For more information on McDonnell’s effort, visit his website, www.alongswim.com, or his wife’s website, www.mybionicboyfriend.com.